Passive institutional investors are an increasingly important component of U.S. stock ownership. To examine whether and by which mechanisms passive investors influence firms’ governance, we exploit variation in ownership by passive mutual funds associated with stock assignments to the Russell 1000 and 2000 indexes. Our findings suggest that passive mutual funds influence firms’ governance choices, resulting in more independent directors, removal of takeover defenses, and more equal voting rights. Passive investors appear to exert influence through their large voting blocs, and consistent with the observed governance differences increasing firm value, passive ownership is associated with improvements in firms’ longer-term performance.
This article examines managers’ incentive to “play it safe.” We find that, after managers are insulated by the adoption of an antitakeover law, managers take value-destroying actions that reduce their firms’ stock volatility and risk of distress. To illustrate one such action, we show that managers undertake diversifying acquisitions that target firms likely to reduce risk, have negative announcement returns, and are concentrated among firms whose managers gain the most from reducing risk. Our findings suggest that instruments typically used to motivate managers, like greater financial leverage and larger ownership stakes, exacerbate risk-related agency challenges.